Crazy cousins (ho ho) Ryuken have been making some serious waves with their heavy-duty bass house grooves of late
From Cheap Thrills to Champion, via Bingo Bass and Good Enuff: when it comes to exemplary shimmies up the UK bass music tree, the three-year trajectory of London bass house duo Ryuken has been nothing short of textbook.
The culmination of years of solo projects in the realms of garage and grime, plus a melting pot of influences that’s been bubbling over since the early 2000s, the chop-slapping Ryuken sound hits with a strong range of references: notes of UKG, speed garage and bassline, hints of electro, grime and house, and a little cheeky breakbeat edge in the mix, with a canny knack for working with MCs and vocalists.
Ryuken is the project both Aaron Doyle (previously known as DNA) and Jeff Cox (Mr Pud) have been searching for since they first got into the game. And it’s working: everyone from TS7 to Idris Elba to DJ EZ and AC Slater have been playing their tracks, while the likes of Herve, Zinc and Diplo have signed and released their music. As have iconic UK indie Champion with the duo’s recent single Work. Yet another unique hybrid of grime, UK funky and bass house, it features the sharp-tongued bars of rising London MC Laughta, and has already been heralded as an official summer banger by 1Xtra’s DJ Target.
Their bass tree shimmying continues later this month with a new single, Is It So Wrong, on the mighty New State. With plenty more locked and loaded in the chamber beyond, it seems Aaron and Jeff’s trajectory is still very much on the rise.
Yet, madly, this could have all happened so much sooner, because Ryuken aren’t a duo forged of happenstance or fluke encounters. They’re actually cousins, with only two years between their ages and 30 minutes between their houses. When it comes to exemplary acts of making up for lost time, Ryuken score yet another bullseye. Here’s how it all happened.
Cousins eh? Before we chat music, what are your earliest memories of each other?
Aaron: "My earliest memory is us playing football at the park. We were quite young then!"
Jeff: "I think mine is a little bit before that, even. I was with Nan and walking past Aaron’s school at break time, and speaking to him through the wire fence."
It was a long time before you actually collaborated though, right? Aaron, I think you’ve got some grime roots with your DNA alias and Jeff I think you’ve got garage roots with your Mr Pud alias… give us some backstory.
Aaron: "Yeah, DNA was my original DJ name. I released a few garage and grime tracks under that name before dabbling in various other projects."
Jeff: "That’s right, I did a few things under that alias. It actually came about from my nickname Pud! I took an interest in DJing about the time garage music began its exciting new sound and started to explode. I quickly started making my own tracks and subsequently started MRP Recordings."
When did you realise you should be working together?
Aaron: "Whilst we knew we were both into making music, we were focusing on our own projects. Jeff was more into the vocal and melodic side of things, whereas I was into the dubplate, more bass-heavy side."
Jeff: "In 2016, coincidentally, we both had our own projects come to an end at a similar time, so we got talking and decided to start a new project together. Over time both of our musical tastes matured and we discovered we were both really feeling house and bass house, so we knew straight away this was where we wanted to go."
Aaron: "We gelled together instantly and both drew on our past experiences and used everything we had already learned to compliment each other and make quick decisions on whether an idea was working or not."
Jeff: "Definitely. I’ve done collaborations in the past and all of the awkwardness and possible tension I’d felt with others wasn’t there. We were able to criticise each other, both good and bad, right from the start."
I'm guessing you picked a name around this time? The only reference to Ryuken I can find is an anime called Bleach. Anime fans, eh?
Aaron: "Funnily enough, we'd never heard of Bleach when we came up with the name. Obviously we have now! We were both chatting about retro games and which character we’d both play as in Street Fighter…"
Jeff: "I would always pick Ryu and Aaron would always pick Ken. We put the two together and formed Ryuken It’s a good job we didn’t play as Dhalsim or Zangief – it wouldn’t have had the same ring to it!"
Aaron: "We even have a Street Fighter arcade in the studio. Seriously!"
Did it bring back muscle memory when hitting the combos?
Aaron: "Nah, not really. Jeff’s better on the combos than me. I was only ever into the original game and didn’t really follow it on consoles. Generally we prefer the retro older 16-bit machines. That was our gaming era."
A touch of the old school. You can hear that in the music, too…
Aaron: "I think so. We’ve been doing music for 20 years now. We loved rave, jungle, garage… there’s a lot of influences which we try and include in the mix every now and again. It shows people where we come from."
It worked. Things picked up straight away for you guys, coming through on Cheap Thrills...
Jeff: "We were very lucky that Herve recognised our potential and gave us a lot of support and guidance in our early days. This really helped shape our sound and gave us a massive platform."
Aaron: "Yeah, we gained support from some of the biggest names in the industry through our Cheap Thrills releases. After our first few releases on Cheap Thrills and Illegal Base, we were very excited to sign our track Lose Myself to Juicy Music and Armada, and then with Pimp on Bingo Bass we gained a lot of new support."
Jeff: "I think the most pivotal moment for me, though, was signing Pioneer to Diplo’s Good Enuff/Mad Decent."
Some massive labels there. The bookings must have started stacking up with that level of releases?
Aaron: "Madly, although we’ve both been DJing for many years, both on radio and in clubs as solo artists and in other projects, we are yet to perform our first gig together as Ryuken... which we both eagerly anticipate!"
What? How’s that, then?
Aaron: "We've had offers! From the minute Let’s Turn It Up dropped, things went off and we had some really interesting offers, but I suggested we keep it special and a bit more exclusive. But I think that annoyed people, because the interest was lost a bit! You know how things can come across in a different way, when it’s not meant like that? So now we’re waiting for the right opportunity. We want it to be special, you know?"
Absolutely. So how did you link up with Laughta on the new single?
Aaron: "We tried to think outside the box and didn’t want another standard vocalist singing about love and heartbreak and all those clichés, so we looked for a rapper. I came across Laughta randomly on YouTube. She’d just done her track Pree My Ting and you could hear she knew what she was doing and had something about her."
Jeff: "She was bang on. Just what we were looking for."
Aaron: "And it turned out I knew her manager from a previous project I’d worked on, so we linked it all up and she was interested. From the minute she came in we knew we could work together. The vibe was crazy, the connection was there. It was great. We were both really impressed by her and we managed to get a lot done in a short space of time."
Jeff: "Yeah, spending time in the studio with Laughta has been a great experience, seeing the pace at which she works and watching her in the zone. And it’s just been really exciting working with Champion Records, and also recording our first video."
And then from Champion to New State. You’ve got another big single out very soon, Is It So Wrong. Tell us about that...
Aaron: "Again, this came about through a load of researching. I came across the track Iman did for Wilkinson, so I got in touch and she was just amazing to work with too. Instant vibes. We did the track, I sent it to Tim at New State and he loved it, so we got some remixes from Gorilla Culture and Herve."
Sounds like a good studio vibe to bring out the best in singers?
Aaron: "Yeah we seem to have been lucky! Like Jeff said earlier, it doesn’t always go that way with collaborations, but things have been great with everyone we’ve been working with lately."
And it sounds like there’s more to come…
Aaron: "There’s more in the pipeline... we’ve already had two sessions this week."
Jeff: "We’ve also got more recording sessions booked in for some talented vocalists, so expect more bangers over the summer!"
Words: Dave Jenkins
Work feat Laughta is out now on Champion Records. Buy it here.